- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

Thinking about peace when the nation is preparing for war is not an easy mental exercise. How do you reach inside yourself for the spirit peace and goodwill towards men, as preached in the Christmas Gospel, when the defense of the American homeland may depend on military action against Iraq and other sources of terrorism? You might ask, where are the three wise men when we need them?
Everything about Christmas tells us to act on our gentler, better instincts generosity, compassion, kindness . Yet, self-defense as a nation calls for the very different human qualities that are more rooted in the Old Testament than in the New.
Still, even Jesus himself was not beyond anger and violence; both were certainly on display when he threw the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. "Can war be ethical?" people wonder, and the answer is "yes," if the cause is right.
Americans are generous people, and in that generosity towards former enemies lies an important message at Christmastime. This was exemplified by the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War II, and President Bush's recent signing of the Afghan Relief Act also represented such an act of generosity. Particularly encouraging was that the bill had been passed with just about unanimous support by Congress.
Now, the president has been very clear since last October when the United States first went to war against al Qaeda and the Taliban government in Kabul, that he does not consider Muslims or the Afghan people the enemy of the United States only the terrorists who attacked this country.
To underscore that point, Secretary of State Colin Powell two weeks ago unveiled a new initiative to foster democracy in the Middle East and improve relations between the United States and the Arab countries. Though modestly funded to tune of $29 million, the initiative shows commitment to help the Arab countries into the 21st century as far as their economies and governance go, attracting foreign investment, building free-trade agreements, encouraging secular education, free speech and democratic institutions.
As Mr. Powell acknowledged, the hope is that by offering a future to young Arabs, we would undermine the appeal of terrorist groups who prey on them. This is a task that is admittedly easier said than done.
Similarly, in offering funding for reconstruction of Afghanistan, for education and micro-loans to start small businesses through the Afghan Relief Act, the U.S. government holds out a helping hand and a commitment to the Afghan people. Some 20 female Afghan school teachers who had been touring Washington and who had been invited to be part of the signing ceremony were clearly not in doubt about the beneficial effect American involvement would have on their impoverished, war-torn country.
Despite admonitions that no photos were allowed, the teachers crowded Mr. Bush on the stage, each demanding to have her picture taken with the president with her own camera, of course. Enduring this lengthy process with remarkable good humor, Mr. Bush finally walked over to a teacher who had been seated in a wheel chair, lifted her to her feet and made sure she got her picture, too.
Now, scenes such as this may be dismissed as feel-good displays. But the international weight and the military dominance possessed by the United States is such at this time as one British politician put it, the United States is not just a "superpower" today but a "super-duper power" that showing a commitment to standards of human rights and improved lives helps demonstrate concretely what this country stands for.
What must not happen, though, is that the Bush administration falls into the same trap as the previous, Democratic White House, for whom Wilsonian "democratic enlargement" became an end in itself. Goals have to be specific and measurable, and they have to conform with the principles on which the United States itself is built. As stated in "The National Security Strategy," "America must stand firmly for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for privacy." (It would had been even better had it said that America must stand for "respect for both men and women.")
Mr. Bush himself put it best during signing ceremony at the White House, "The United States does not occupy other countries. We liberate them." As we look towards the looming confrontation with Iraq, that's the message Americans need to remember and Iraqis need to hear. Removing Saddam Hussein will at once enhance our security and improve their lives beyond measure.

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